When it comes to national controversies, Sarah Palin has been wronged — but she has also been wrong.
She was libeled last week as an instigator of the Tucson massacre, but she has spread libel herself about the Ground Zero Mosque imam, Feisal Rauf. “Rauf refuses to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of our ally, Israel,” she wrote on her Facebook page last year in protest against Rauf’s Park 51 Project.
But as Rauf repeated — again — on Frank Beckmann’s conservative radio show last Friday, he strongly opposes Hamas and terrorism. “Hamas is a terrorist organization. They have committed terrorist acts,” he told Beckmann in an impassioned denunciation of Islamic extremists who “pose more of a threat, in fact, to Muslim-majority societies,” where bombings have killed thousands of innocent people.
Rauf was in Metro Detroit over the Martin Luther King weekend to promote his lower-Manhattan “YMCA” and participate in a diversity forum sponsored by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. (Metro Detroit has one of the United States’ largest Muslim communities.) In prepared remarks before a private audience of 400 on Saturday, Rauf urged his listeners to “create a unity umbrella” in bringing a global message of peace and healing, and to isolate religious extremists. “We do not want our faith to be a wedge issue between Republicans and Democrats in this country,” he said. “It must be a unifying aspect.”
In his more extensive, wide-ranging interview with Beckmann, Rauf made clear that he bears no resemblance to Mrs. Palin’s caricature.
Rauf’s denunciation of Hamas this weekend is not the first time he has addressed the issue, despite widespread misconceptions that he is a Hamas apologist. His own website, CordobaInitiative.org, states: “Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. When Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror, those actions should be condemned. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic.”
In an interview last September on Larry King Live, Rauf told guest host Soledad O’Brien, “I condemn everyone and anyone who commits acts of terrorism. And Hamas has committed acts of terrorism.” In a separate radio interview in June he said, “Targeting of civilians is wrong. I am a supporter of the State of Israel.”
Palin concluded: “[I] feel it would be an intolerable and tragic mistake to allow such a project sponsored by such an individual to go forward on such hallowed ground.”
But “such an individual” told Beckmann that he has had a mosque on this “hallowed ground” in lower Manhattan “for 27 years. My mosque is just a few blocks north of [Ground Zero]. Nine-one-one was our tragedy too. Members of my mosque were among those who were victims.”
Taking Rauf’s words out of context (as Democrats have done with Palin in denouncing her “targeting” of Democrats), Palin quotes Rauf as saying: “Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” But listen to Rauf at length and you might mistake him for a Tea Partier. Like most American Muslims who have fled the horrors of Mideastern religious intolerance for America’s shores, Rauf is passionate about our liberties, our Founding Fathers, and heroes of freedom like Ronald Reagan.
“The reason we were supported by many of the masses of the ex-Soviet countries is because publicly we called their leadership — Reagan called them — an ‘Evil Empire,’” Rauf told Beckmann in urging American leaders to denounce corruption in Muslim nations. “This had great appreciation among the masses. We called their leadership for what they were.”
Does this sound like a man insensitive to American democracy?
“What the vast majority of people in the Muslim world want is what we have here,” he continued in explaining his “dream” (a deliberate allusion to MLK) of Park 51–like community centers all over the world to showcase religious tolerance. “Look at our Declaration [of Independence]. The American formulation of how to structure a system of rights . . . is the ideal form for Muslim countries to follow. I want Muslim states to become America-like states.”
Hardened minds on the right will say that Rauf is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. To them, Rauf cries: “Then fleece my wool and see if there is a wolf there! Open my teeth and see. Perform the operation and see.”
Park 51 critics like Palin who take Rauf’s words out of context are using the community center for political gain. Just like the Democrats last week who could not point to a single example of Tea Partiers exhorting violence of the type we saw in Tucson.
— Henry Payne is editor of TheMichiganView.com and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.